Throughout his time in the league, Steve Tasker always was able to rise above what everyone had always thought was the ideal description of a professional football player. They had to have the right weight, be tall enough, and could never be weaker than their opponent. At 5’9″ and usually not even hitting 200 pounds, Tasker tore through defenses when in at wide receiver and terrorized kick returners as a member of special teams.
Now, he’s a member of the CBS Sports‘ team and he knows all there is to know about the game of football from an analyst’s perspective. He took a few minutes to weigh in on this week’s match-up on Thursday Night Football between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s thinking what a lot of others are thinking, and while anything is possible, it may not be close.
Which player on each team is a wild card and why? Steve Tasker: “For the Falcons, the wild card would have to be Devin Hester, the return guy. He’s a guy that can hit a home run if you just let him do it. That’s the player you have to watch.
As for the Bucs, it’s a bit more difficult. They’ve had some injuries with (Adrian) Claiborne and (Austin-Seferian) Jenkins…Michael Johnson and Doug Martin, the running back is out. With so many injuries, it’s going to be one of the guys that replaces them. Any corner that plays, Atlanta is just going to exploit so the Bucs need to make up for it with other backup players.”
With the Saints at 0-2, do you think the NFC South race is truly wide open? ST: “Right now, it’s got to be Atlanta and Carolina. I think New Orleans can get back into it, but they’ve already dropped one to Atlanta. Carolina with Cam Newton getting back in the game…when he’s healthy, he is the atomic bomb, the ultimate weapon. When Cam Newton is on, Carolina can beat any team in their division. That being said, if he’s not given his space, he can cost you the game too. That’s sort of a double-edged sword with Cam Newton.
I think it is kind of wide open. New Orleans is a very good team. Atlanta is playing well. Carolina is a very good. So you have three in a very competitive division. You have New Orleans that has fallen two games back, but Atlanta and Carolina have yet to play each other and that’s going to have a lot to say about it. No matter what, those three teams are all quality teams in a division that is wide open.”
Matt Ryan and the Falcons have the top-ranked passing offense in the NFL, how can the Bucs stop them? ST: “It can happen. I won’t say it can’t as I’ve seen it happen before. I give it a chance, but everyone in that locker room is probably the main group of guys that believe it’s going to happen, and they need to be.”
Atlanta’s passing defense is next to last in the league and Tampa Bay’s passing offense is also next to last…which will break first on Thursday night? ST: “With this offense…Matt Ryan and those receivers, Roddy White and Julio (Jones). If those guys are healthy and Matt Ryan’s in the pocket, there’s no way of stopping them. It’s going to be really hard to stop them no matter who is out on the field against them. Those guys are going to be a serious problem for Tampa Bay.”
How much longer do you think the Bucs will give Josh McCown before switching to Mike Glennon?
ST: “The leash is getting shorter and shorter. Now, they’re going to switch before it is too late to get into the playoffs and not jeopardize the race. If he plays poorly again, the pressure is going to be on the Bucs to do something. At this point, in the first half of the season, you want to give yourself a chance to stay in the race. If switching quarterbacks is going to do it, then yeah, Josh McCown has got to start playing better…if Mike Glennon will give them a spark, they will switch in a heartbeat.
For now, I think they will stick with McCown. They may be seeing progress that we are not privy to and if he’s doing better and things are going better, they may stick with him longer than we might suspect.”
What are the keys to Tampa Bay winning on Thursday? ST: “Stop Matt Ryan. Tampa Bay is going to have to score points to keep up with Atlanta, period. They’re going to have to stop running the football because they’ll be down by too much.”
What are the keys to Atlanta winning on Thursday? ST: “The way they’re playing offense right now, they need to just not turn it over. If they can protect the football and play mistake free, then at this point, the way Tampa Bay is going…they’re going to do something to take themselves out.
What’s your prediction for Atlanta vs. Tampa Bay? Score?
ST: “I think Atlanta is going to win. I think if you look at Matt Ryan’s record over the course of his career in Atlanta and how tough it is to beat those guys…just seeing what they went through last year. That’s my call, I think Matt Ryan and Roddy White and Julio Jones and Steven Jackson are going to get back on track. If they are playing their offense…that home field makes the defense that much better with the crowd too. Atlanta is going to be a really really tough team to beat all year this year.”